Note: This editorial ran in the Dec. 14 edition of the Record-Journal.
During the summer there was some awareness about trouble for Don Drust Jr., and some concern that his job as Cheshire High School’s head football coach was in jeopardy. What was impressive at the time was the expression of support for the coach, even though it was unclear what, if anything, he had done wrong. There was a rally in front of the school system’s offices in June, and support from former and current players and their families.
It took a Freedom of Information request from the Record-Journal to uncover for certain what was going on: While he had fulfilled the necessary requirements, Drust had failed to receive state certification to coach. He did not hold an active five-year coaching permit, which meant he had been coaching without a permit since 2014. The training required for such certification, which Drust had completed, included a 45-hour coaching course and CPR and concussion training.
Without mentioning this, School Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Solan announced in early July that the issue had been “resolved” after an investigation into “some concerns brought forward.”
That resolution, as it turned out, included disciplinary action against Drust and Athletic Director Steve Trifone, on whose watch the lapse had occurred. Trifone was suspended for three days without pay. Drust received a five-day suspension without pay.
In communication that came to light because of the FOI request, Solan noted that failure to get the necessary certification “produces liability for our school system and undermines our credibility.”
All of this seems fair enough. Both Drust and Trifone were responsible for making sure the coaching certification was in order and a more than five-year lapse should have been noticed and addressed a lot sooner.
It was a mistake and we suspect there will be efforts to make sure that mistakes like it don’t happen again. Certainly the suspensions correctly drove home the point that this type of oversight won’t be tolerated.
But what also undermines credibility is keeping things a secret. Personnel issues can get cloudy and there are legal issues involved, but there are few, if any, positions in public schools more high profile than the head coach of the high school football team. A lot of angst, needless speculation and harm could have been avoided had those involved, which included the Board of Education, been more attuned to the public interest and more committed to transparency.
The Record-Journal news team is to be commended for its efforts to shine some much needed sunlight on an opaque situation. But it shouldn’t have taken an FOI request from a news organization to finally reveal months later what had been going on. The public interest in knowing what the coach was being accused of far outweighed any reason to keep the incident secret.
That’s another important lesson to be learned from this situation.